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An inpromptu traverse of the Cairngorms

An inpromptu traverse of the Cairngorms

Postby hpil » Sat Sep 26, 2020 11:11 pm

Munros included on this walk: Beinn a' Chaorainn (Cairngorms), Beinn Bhrotain, Ben Macdui, Cairn Toul, Monadh Mòr, Sgòr an Lochain Uaine

Date walked: 11/09/2020

Time taken: 24 hours

Distance: 53 km

Ascent: 3000m

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It begins with a map – all the best adventures do. Idle pondering on unclaimed munros in the back of beyond, places I’ve grazed the edges of in years past. A group to the north of Ben Alder, strung out in a line, leading ever deeper into the wild. A circuit of these doesn’t seem natural, they entice the eye onwards. Beinn na Lap, seemingly on its own, but a natural continuation of the group, separated only by the cleft of Strath Ossian. Then civilisation, in some form, at Corrour station. But a stone’s throw north west is the Lairig Leacach and beyond that the Grey Corries ridge loops and swoops east to west, up and down, all the way to The Ben.

Dalwhinnie to Fort William, over the tops. Twelve munros, of which nine would be new claims and two would be repeats of some of the very first I climbed. Now that would be an adventure.

And that’s Phase 1 – easy as that – the idea. Phase 2 is denial - ‘Whoa, that’s a big trip, a lot to take on. Height to gain, miles to walk, weather to challenge, gear to carry. Nice idea, not realistic though.’ Phase 3 is the bounce, a mental rationalisation, a more considered assessment. Measure off some distances, calculate some height gains (oh, these OS maps are beautiful things). A quick spreadsheet, some jiggery pokery to allocate sections to days, a Google on train times from Edinburgh to Dalwhinnie. Before you know it there’s a plan - four days of seven hours each, 1200-1300m climb per day, overnight camps at remote lochans and bealachs, with a sanity check / bail out option midway at Loch Treig, a train delivering me to Dalwhinnie for 11am on day 1 and a bunkhouse with pub for day 4. It’s perfect. I can already taste that burger and pint. This isn’t just do-able, it’s MUST do-able.

Phase 4 is the permissions. An innocent comment on a family walk - “I’ve got 8 days leave to use before the end of the year…”. “Then use it, - go to the hills” comes the reply. That’s permission sorted. A bunkhouse at the end – going to need that. Achintee has availability and can take me on all of the option dates I have in mind. Work is a formality, easily granted. Weather next - a text to The SoothSayer – “What’s the weather going to be in two week’s time, between Dalwhinnie and Fort William?” “Difficult to say, ask me in a week’s time” comes the reply. But the plan is burning me now, worming through my mind whenever it can. The bunkhouse will lose its availability – Covid means their availability windows are tiny. So I book it for Tuesday 15th September. The die is cast.

Phase 5 is the detail. Another spreadsheet, this one for gear, clothes, food, packing. A trial pack into my 50l alpine sack, tent on the outside. Too heavy, too unwieldy. Tents are a problem – I’ve a 23 year old Macpac, perfect for the job but the flysheet is hydrolysing and I don’t fancy being in the sticks with it when it fails. Second choice is another old faithful, a 4 season Trisar, but that is weighing in at just under four kilos. I extract my bombproof expedition ‘sac from a 15 year dormancy in the loft. Empty it weights half a kilo more than the alpine sac. That’s disappointing. It’ll be shoulder season – could be four days of sleet and snow, or four days of Indian summer. Best take some warm gear. Weight is going in the wrong direction.

T minus six days, a walk with friends up Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’ Chroin. I spill my plans for the next weekend, that gets me a proverbial jealous thump on the shoulder but also a loan of a Jetboil and a sub-kilo tent. Weight begins to go in the right direction. But the tent is not much bigger than my sleeping mat, and if I’m walking seven or eight hours per day in rubbish weather then I’m in that fabric coffin for the remaining sixteen, and that doesn’t seem like fun. Summitsonline in Paisley comes to the rescue – a Wild Country Trisar weighing in at 2.5kg and a touch over half price – a bargain replacement for the fading but loyal Macpac. Weight begins to settle out at an acceptable compromise.

T minus four days. The rucsac is pretty much packed, maps printed, main route and escape routes highlighted on the copy set I’ll leave at home. Text from The Soothsayer – “my advice, delay to 4th week Sept or head south”. Ahh, that could be a problem. I type a reply: “and what if one had already booked the bunkhouse for journey’s end? Asking for a friend…?” “Then do it. It’ll just be wet and windy”. Problem solved, I think.

T minus sixty hours, the MWIS short range forecast finally comes into view. ‘West Highlands – increasingly wet and windy, periods of severe upland gales, very substantial rainfall, expect flooding, rivers in spate.’ My world falls in, the forecast keeps me awake that night. The bottom line is a) it really doesn’t sound clever, and b) some view from some points on the hills would have been nice. This is not what I had in mind. In fact, it’s worse than that, its verging on disastrous – the last thing I want to do is run out of motivation halfway through and bail out when my moral fibre gets swept away in a highland flood, or leached out of aching feet.

T minus forty five hours – I borrow some time from work and log in to WalkHighlands for the umpteenth time, this time casting my curiosity east. I’ve four munros in the south Cairngorms still to claim. The glen from Braemar will be stunning this time of year. A route begins to emerge from the orange contours and black crags – Linn of Dee, White Bridge, Beinn Bhrotain, Monadth Mor, Sgor an Lochain Uaine, Braeriach, a hop to Ben Macdui, cross over the plateau and on to Beinn a Chaorainn then back to the Linn of Dee for tea and medals.

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Join the red triangles...

Walkhighlands gives me a height profile, a cross section as the crow flies from The Angel’s Peak to Hill of the Rowan – a simple, beguiling line that bisects Ben Macdui and seemingly clips the sky then plummets like a stone. A journey right through the heart of the Cairngorms, crossing through remote and spectacular valleys, the Lairig Ghru, Loch Etchachan, Lairig an Laoigh, and taking in bothies of legend – Hutchinson, Bob Scott’s – using them is verboten in the current situation, but being beside them will be enough.

As the crow flies from Sgor an Lochain Uaine to Beinn a Chaorainn

An improbable route perhaps, it wouldn’t be an immediately obvious plan but for the perversity of list ticking and having unfinished business at the extreme ends of a region I’ve visited so many times before for winter climbing forays. That somehow makes it even more appealing – it’s more than list ticking, it’s a journey, an exploration. Three days, plenty of escape options and low level tracks, some high level options and navigation exercises if the weather gives me a chance. And more than anything, just time in the mountains.

So The Plan takes a complete U-turn. West is on hold, Dalwhinnie to Fort William will wait, public transport not required, Achintee bunkhouse informed. I load the car with bike plus bike gear – there’s some bike and hike options nearby - , more spare clothes, the box of valley camping stuff, a pillow for valley camping, other luxuries, more maps are printed. The mission is on, life is good again.

Saturday 6.30 am, I slip out of the door to pale blue skies, a chill in the air, heavy dew on the ground. At my childhood home on the farm in Kent this would be a hop picking morning – the air still and quiet, early morning fog lingering in pockets but a hint of sun breaking through and the promise of warmth to come. Sleepy hop pickers waiting their instructions for the day, then engines bursting in to life and tractors rattling off into the mist. Memories seemingly from a life time ago, but still fresh.

The first hours in the car disappear, the radio turns to developing Covid news. I don’t need this, not now, not for the next few days. I switch to some mellow tunes as the sun breaks through Perthshire hedgerows and oat stubble fields respond with an unworldly golden glow, a treat only for those up early enough to deserve it. I turn another corner and the Cairngorm National Park sign flits past. An shiver of delight, a smile and the mpg plummets as I corkscrew the car through twists and turns and on to Glen Shee.

09.30, Linn of Dee. Boots are on, car locked, rucsac shouldered. It’s a weight, but it’s a good weight I tell myself. Five minutes in, at the start of the track to White Bridge, a photo stop is required. As is another five minutes later, where the track breaks out from the last of the Scots Pines. Another ten minutes, rucsac adjustment is required – well, it has been in the loft for fifteen years. Another ten minutes, and I’m reminding myself that the first forty minutes are always the worst, the rucsac and my body will adjust to each other soon enough.

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Leaving the Linn of Dee

Five minutes later I remember the MP3 player packed to get me along Loch Ericht. That also has been unused for fifteen years – I can’t even remember what’s on it. Rucsac off again, tweak the straps again, MP3 player on. Four iconic notes meet in the middle of my head. Blondie – that’ll do! Discomfort drowned by music, I start to take in my surroundings. The heather is over, fading purple, the bracken is turning, the palette is browns and greens split by a ribbon of dark blue and white where the River Dee burbles. Beautiful, although I don’t think my hair will be looking very beautiful tonight. Tonight, Too-niiiii-iiii-iii-iight. Nor my shoulders – they just hurt.

The White Bridge - photo stop. Four pairs of folk have passed me on bikes, and most seem to be heading where I’m now going – north towards the Lairig Grhu. Ahead are ranks of black, grey and green mountains capped by leaden skies but where I am right here, right now, the sun is winning through and the breeze is keeping the midges at bay. All is well – apart from my rucsac, which still hasn’t settled down.

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Looking north up the Lairig Ghru

11.30 brings the point to leave the main path and start gaining some height. Time for a snack and a welcome reason to take the rucsac off. All too quickly it’s back on and Blondie gives way to Embrace, rising me up again, squelching through bog and heather around the flank of Carn Fiaclach. Halfway up I meet a chap on his way down – its more than a bit breezy up there apparently, so he’s changing his plans. To be fair, the forecast is for it to be rough tonight and tomorrow, so maybe this is the start of that system.

The path fades to nothing, then picks up again as the heather gives way to boulders and bleached gravel near the top of Carn Cloich-mhuilinn. The wind is stronger now, trying to knock me off my feet. Embrace are done and Enigma takes over – it’s all a bit more ominous now, the gravity of life. Fifteen minutes later and the wind is starting to blow the earphones out of my ears. There’s a bit of shelter behind some boulders on the summit – time for a quick bite, Goretex on, gloves on, music away. The rest of the day could be challenging, possibly in jeopardy if this persists. Onwards, shoulder the ‘sac – ooff – another ineffectual tweak to the straps now made more of a struggle with thick gloves and flapping jacket. Fortunately the wind does tail off a little, but the boulder field on the descent is tedious and requires concentration.

Near the head of the Allt Garbh I meet another walker on his way down. It’s very windy up there, he tells me some folks in front are coming down, others are pushing on. A squall comes in, almost frantically I pull waterproof trousers on then jacket off, windshirt swapped for a warmer layer, jacket back on, gloves on too. Chilly now, but that stop was the right thing to do. Rucsac back on – ooff, when will you settle? – then plod to the top of Beinn Bhrotain. On the top there’s a wall around the trig point and another nearby so I settle down behind this, back to the wind, in front a vista of big open hills, sky and sun breaking through cloud. An apple from the garden at home – one of the first from this years’ picking – tops it off. I’m in heaven.

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Summit of Beinn Bhrotain

Onwards – third passing conversation of the day, this time with a runner on the summit. A moment of envy for his ‘sac – but then he’s in shorts and a windshirt, and I’m quite glad of the layers of kit I have with me, if only my ruscac would stop punishing me for it. The descent off the summit is another tedious pick through a boulder field. Beyond the boulder field I can see the path, broad as daylight luring me on, but the boulders at my feet need close focus and concentration. Down to the sneck, a short pull up onto Monadh Mor. Broad, flat top, grey skies overhead and threatening to close in around my shoulders. I strike out towards the cairn, then a map check and re-orient to the actual summit which can’t be more than a metre higher. I get to the summit at half past three, time for another snack. This is wild country now. Looking north I pick out Sgor an Lochain Uaine, and follow the ridge north over Braeriach, and then to the south over Carin Toul and The Devil’s Point. In between here and there is the windswept peat bog cum col that is supposed to be tonight’s camp. It doesn’t look appealing and, to be honest, neither does an hour or two picking round and over Braeriach in tomorrow’s weather. Corrour would be a better place to stop for the night and would give me options for a wild weather low level route or a mild high route east. And from here, two hours to the top of Sgor an Lochain Uaine, followed by an hour to Corrour? That might be a better plan… but no need to decide just yet.

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Looking north to Braeriach

Descent to the col above Loch nan Stuirteag. Still my rucsac nips even though I’m working through the day 1 heavy luxury food. Is it punishing me for leaving it unused for so long? It’s starting to become a Thing – I name it The Beast. And another boulder field to pick through, with The Beast hanging on my shoulders, waiting to leap on that one mistake. The col is, as I suspected, wet and miserable. Time in hand for the B (or is it F? G? H?) plan – push on to Sgor an Lochain Uaine then get to Corrour an hour before it gets dark. Easy decision – I’m drawn to Corrour, via the high level route.

As I push on up there is yet another boulder field to pick through, and now the cloud is coming down. The peaks I’m aiming for, my references, my beacons, disappear. The boulders eventually give way, a path appears. I repeat the maths – ‘two km, thirty minutes, nine hundred to what was it – twelve hundred-ish? Three hundred, thirty minutes, all in - one hour. Plus time for the Beast. No rush, just plod, plod, plod. I’m going to win this one, you know. And I’m going to feel mighty fine about doing it.

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Just one of many boulder fields

And then as the path eases slightly, through the cloud I catch a glimpse of the col between Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Cairn Toul, and I am quite clearly level with it. The map contours said a hundred metres from top to col, so I’ve only a hundred metres of height gain to go. That is a result, worthy of an involuntary air punch.

The flank I’m on funnels to a spur, a drop to infinity and beyond on the left and then the same appears ahead and I’m on the top. Its six pm. Twelve hours ago I was sliding out from under a warm duvet. A sandwich reward, a quick compass reorientation then south east down to the col and up onto Cairn Toul through cloud, horizontal drizzle and more boulders that swallow the ephemeral path once again. I’ve been here before, one of my first trips with the University club in, … when was it… 1991? 1992? That was a big day, I wonder what the others who were on that trip did with their lives? Some I still see regularly, others disappeared like this path – there, somewhere, slipped from view.

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nearing the top of Sgor an Lochain Uaine

Onwards again – down is beautiful, or it will be once this boulder field is dealt with. It’s a big one and takes a good twenty minutes, The Beast poking at me all the while. The drizzle is stronger now, driven by the wind, the forecast was for rain all night so this must be the start of it. The wind is getting up again and the light says we are definitely in the dying of the day. Boulders turn to bog but the path reappears and leads through. There’s no shelter at the col between pt 1215 and the Devil’s Point so I hunker behind The Beast, fire off a quick update to home and begin the drop down to Corrour. Its 8pm when I get there – ten and a half hours on the move, three more than I planned for the day. 25km and 1600m of ascent under my belt, but three new munros done, Cairn Toul repeated, a challenge of a day and a great place to camp with easy options for tomorrow. I can lie in, knowing I deserve every minute of it.

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Approaching Corrour

Tent up in the dark – a gust of wind catches it before the first peg goes in and I could do without the sprint across rush hags to catch it. Jetboil on – oh that is a thing of beauty – tea, tea again, soup, beef and pearl barley stew. A final minute to recollect the day then, sleep, beautiful sleep.


It rains all night. The morning starts luxuriously slow, but the rain stops by eight. Outside the sun is trying to break through. Idle pondering on the map – the estate track to Derry Lodge is dull, and gives a long walk back in to Beinn a’ Chaorainn, it’s three sides of a square. But up the Allt Clach nan Taillear towards Ben Macdui, over the plateau and beyond is more direct, it promises wilderness, challenge, adventure. A quick hop over the plateau, on the Macdui motorway then down into of Loch Etchachan – new ground to me. I have to go.

So I do, packed up and away by 9.15. It’s warm but wet today, full waterproofs but only a wicking top beneath. I cross the bridge and head up the Lairig Ghru looking for the first major burn on the right. Once there I chat to a couple of ladies heading to the Sugar Bowl.

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The bridge at Corrour

Up – heather bashing to start, then another ephemeral path appears, following the burn. About 200m higher, the path fades for the umpteenth time but seems to leave the burn and head up and south onto the flank of Sron Riach, through yet another boulder field. My mind is wandering, I conclude that these boulder fields are like mullet hair cuts – hanging off the head and smearing the shoulders of the mountains, not exactly pleasant and could definitely do without them. Up the face however, adventure climbing over the nose, an icky runout on the windslab-laden forehead before the short fringe of cornice takes you right to the top – now that’s fun! And so these aren’t boulder fields, from now on they shall be known as mullet fields.

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Corrour and the Lairig Ghru from the Allt nan Taillear

Interestingly, The Beast is quiet today, but I shall find out why in approximately eight hours’ time.

Into the cloud and wind, rain starts. My gloves start to wet out, but I’m on the final level to the edge of the plateau and the Macdui Motorway. Some shelter behind a boulder and a quick map check. It’s a bit out of my way, but six hundred metres and seventy of ascent would take me to the summit of Ben Macdui. It would be a shame to miss the summit out, being so close and all that. Up we go, the path easy to follow but it’s now gale force wind and rain. What appears to be the summit looms out of the murk, then turns into a ruined building, but just beyond the next crest is definitely the top. Up to the trig point, 12.30pm, then a quick look at a bronze plaque glowing golden in the gale, before heading back to the ruin for a bite and an extra layer. I can now wring water out of my gloves. Homemade sandwiches compensate for that – who knew? On, downwards, almost skipping down the motorway.

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Gale on the summit of Ben Macdui

Then, I must be too relaxed, too casual because I screw up the navigation. Blatantly stupid, blatantly simple. I know the path curves down towards Loch Etchachan, running beside a burn. The Motorway becomes less distinct in flats of wind scoured gravel, and so I make up a curving line to pick up the head of the burn I can just make out on my left, still following what I think is an indistinct path. Two minutes down the burn, the path just isn’t on this side, but it doesn’t look like it’s on the other side either. Map check - peculiar - definitely expecting a well established path. Unless… double take on the map. Yep. Compass out, bearing check. Definitely yep. The burn I want heads north east, the one I’m on heads north, towards the Shelter Stone and Hell’s Lum. I’ve been following the Garbh Uisge Mor, you… idiot! Such a stupid, obvious mistake.

I set a reciprocal – straight south should bisect onto the motorway and sure enough in three minutes it does. And the path still is a motorway here, no real excuse for having left it in the first place other than my mind was wandering and looking for shortcuts.

It takes a few more map and compass checks before I’m totally happy I’m back on track. The path now winds down spurs, past the maws of Choire Sputan Dearg looming out of the mist. Onwards and down, round the next corner I begin to break out of the cloud and Loch Etchachan appears. Another stop to rest my feet (although I tell myself it’s a lunch stop) where the burn breaks out and drops into Coire Etchachan. The cloud is swirling twenty metres above me, but two hundred below I can see the tin roof of the Hutchinson, my planned stop for the night.

I get there at 2.30pm. A quick tour round the outside – some flat spots for camping, but the wind is whipping up the valley and battering at the door. I sneak into the entrance porch – there’s a bench high enough to sit down, slip the ‘sac off and swing my feet a few inches off the ground. Oh what bliss! With the weight off, blood can reach my heels and toes. The wind tugs at the tin roof, drizzle trickles down the window. Two thirty pm. Twenty hours is a long time to spend camping in a gale. Two hours from here would get me on to Beinn a’ Chaorainn, another hour from there into the head of Glen Derry, where the camping will be sheltered and give me an easier day tomorrow…

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The Hutchie

Before I really know it, another decision is made and I’m going for Beinn a Chaorainn this afternoon. I sign the log book, shoulder the Beast and head out. Fifteen minutes down the path is a narrow wooden bridge across the Coire Etchachan Burn, then it’s plodding up heathery moraine and boggy groughs towards the Lairig an Laoigh, which I reach at half three. Another Cairngorms legend reveals itself through the mist – Dubh Lochan to the north and the Fords of Avon beyond. Must go there some time, but not today.

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Looking towards the Fords of Avon

Up onto the Beinn a’ Chaorainn plateau is steep, slow, steady, but done soon enough. Again the path evaporates, and I follow a distinct boundary between ankle high heather and lush peat bog – this will be my marker for relocating the descent if the cloud drops. A bit further on another path appears, heading in the direction I’m looking for. This bisects another, heading east. Not quite what I was expecting, but it seems well trodden so I follow for a bit and then when it vanishes go back onto my original heading. A pick though the heather follows, then the terrain opens up a little and it becomes clear that the earlier path was heading in a more direct route. Still, onwards. Oh joy, another mullet field to work through. Back into the wind and rain, but the summit is in sight now. One hundred metres off the summit, the path reappears and leads me on. If my timings are right, I should reach the summit at four thirty five. I get there ten minutes early – get in! I’m , tired and wet, but jubilant. Blowing a gale, and raining. Time to head for home, which is… into the gale. A broader path heads south west, but I quickly grind to a halt as the wind and rain drives into my face. At this point I remember the skiing googles, chucked in at the last minute when the forecast was talking of sleet on the tops. On they go, and life instantly improves, the descent becomes a stride down the heather and a slide down a welcome scree run back to the Lairig an Loaigh.

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On the top of Beinn a Chaorainn

Looking down Glen Derry from here I can see a stand of trees that look like a likely home for the night. Four km, one hour, just after six should do it. Picking my way down the path, my feet are now both soaking and screaming, however there’s nothing to do but push on. The trees arrive, but everywhere around is hummocky grass and heather. What feasible spots I can find are already occupied, are hidden in the trees and are undoubtedly midge infested. It’s also a trek for water. Map check – Derry Lodge isn’t that far now and I know there are good spots there. And I can always stop if I find somewhere good before.

But I don’t, so I don’t, and its half seven by the time I get to an idyllic patch right on the bank of the Derry Burn, just round the corner from the bridge and Derry Lodge. I’m soaked to the skin and exhausted, running on empty. A breeze rustles through rowan saplings, the ground is firm, dry , grassy and level – this is perfect. The Beast lands with a thump and I grow an inch in height.

That is, for five minutes it is perfect. Time enough to hang sodden waterproofs on a nearby sapling, get some water from the river and unpack the Beast, only to find everything inside is wet. Fifteen years in the loft have taken their toll and the Beast has had today’s revenge – that kiwi miracle fabric has a lifespan. All that time I have spent pushing on through wind and rain, the Beast on my back has quietly given in to the same rain and let it wick through and saturate, well, everything. Spare warm layers to put on at camp – wet. Sleeping bag and mat – wet. Spare baselayers, in their own bag – wet. It’s like a trusted friend that I have carried through hard times, only to find all the while I was being let down. It’s almost, and literally, crushing. And, just as this is sinking in, the breeze evaporates and the midges descend. The tent goes up super quick, everything gets launched inside and I dive in on top.

What on earth has just happened? I feel on the verge of shock, I’m wet all over and getting cold, no longer generating heat to keep warm now I’ve stopped moving. I have to concentrate to get a plan - first up, get out of this wet kit. The spare base layers turn out only to be damp round the edges, so on they go. Medium wet kit gets piled in the middle of the tent, saturated kit goes down the bottom. The Thermarest is also only damp along the edges, so that gets laid out. Food and cooking goes by the entrance. Suddenly the tent is full and I am very glad I’ve brought a two man tent and a full change of clothes.

A wee bit tired...

Next is cooking – not going to risk opening the midge screen so the stove goes on inside the main part of the tent. Two cups of tea, then supper – dehydrated porcini mushroom risotto from a brand I’ve not tried before. It looks unpromising, but turns out to rehydrate perfectly and is delicious. Finally into my pit, which also turns out to be only slightly damp around the edges. Life is OK again. That was some day – another ten hours, 23km, 1350m of ascent. And tomorrow IS an easy day – I’m running out of Cairngorms to travel through!

Monday morning dawns dry. I doze in my pit, watching the midges clawing at the tent inner. Around nine I turn the stove on and brew up until I’m out of water. Packing up needs a midge net, but once I’m out of the trees south of Derry Lodge a breeze picks up and the midges retreat.

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The Beast at (of?) Glen Derry

Back towards civilisation now – yesterday I saw five people to speak to in the whole day, today I see twice that in the first ten minutes. Bike and hikers, on everything from juiced up e-bikes to skinny tyred commuters. Backpackers setting out, tottering under loads bigger than mine. And tourists in jeans and white trainers, carrying lap dogs. Today, I feel calm, chilled, floating on a cushion of smug satisfaction and achievement - let those tourists encounter what I’ve been through, that might change their mind on jeans and lap dogs.

Yesterday’s weather is still clearing, black clouds build but fade before coming to anything, and the sun is going to win through today.

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Glen Lui - the way back home

Lunchtime brings the Linn of Dee and the car. I’m done, and literally done in, for today anyway. I get into the car and head back towards Braemar, cheery waves from van-lifers as we edge past on the narrow road, no such courtesy from the Range Rover and Discovery crowd - coming back into real life now. Braemar, a stop at the Co-op for luxuries and treats – fresh milk, beer, a bag of crisps and sour cream dip. Then to the Braemar campsite, and I get the last tent space. The drying room is closed until 3pm so my car becomes an impromptu drying rack. And finally, kick back on the manicured grass and relax. Tea, beer, crisps, a knowing nod to a solo cycle tourer who arrives twenty minutes later and immediately decorates the boundary fence with his wet kit. That trip was everything I wanted and expected, and more.

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Inpromptu drying rack

That evening I go for food. I was hoping for a pub meal but end up in the slighty stuffy atmosphere of a hotel restaurant. The venison burger and chips are great, the wooden plank and tin bucket they are served on are pretentious and pointless. A dull, older couple on the next table wear their covid masks on their chins for the duration, like some kind of badge to show they are doing the right thing. Everyone else keeps theirs in a pocket, clinging by fingernails to a version of normality. I overhear the neighbours’ conversation - “that mountain walk we did the other day was too much. We’re here for a month, we have plenty of time to do another one if you want to before we go…”

Life outside the mountains is dull – I knew that before this trip, I’m lucky to have known it for a long time, and I feel even luckier to have reaffirmed it over the last three days.

I flip open the map I’ve brought with me. ‘Inverey – parking. Estate track winding south, 8km, flat or near enough… say one hour twenty on a bike with a ‘sac, ten minutes to stash the bike, 5km and 450m so two hours walk to the first summit – stalkers track past grouse butts, then maybe a thin path to the bealach….

A plan is falling into place, this walk is barely done, but in my mind I’m on the next one already. Life is good, it just needs balance and escape. Especially in these times.

caringorms circuit.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

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Re: An inpromptu traverse of the Cairngorms

Postby rockhopper » Sat Sep 26, 2020 11:55 pm

So many options for the hills around here - nice route even if a bit challenging at times - cheers :)
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Re: An inpromptu traverse of the Cairngorms

Postby ScotFinn65 » Sun Sep 27, 2020 7:02 am

What an enjoyable read. Very engrossing.

Thanks for taking the time to write up a great report and share it :clap:
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